Sunday, April 3, 2016

Spring Seedlings

As the snow flies outside I am hoping that spring will get here before my seedlings get too root bound. It seemed like things were going to get an early start this year and so I planted the cold hardiest among my seeds March 13th. I love to see Thomas Jefferson's "Tennis Ball" lettuce next to Johnny's Seed's "Cherokee". 

Here the raddichio "Perseo" promises to be a nice round head in late summer. These greens are some of my favorite salad additions for bitter flavor and long refrigerator life. Tatsoi is also a great keeper in the refrigerator, lasting three weeks.

Credit: Johnny's Selected Seeds-Radicchio, Perseo
It is so easy to start seeds indoors with just a simple set up. A couple of work lights from a hardware store over an old piece of plywood on some saw horses works just fine.  Something to consider while the weather takes its time warming up. Come on spring!! 

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Good Companions

Remember summer? I admit that I love to look at pictures from summers past at this time of year. It helps me remember which plant combinations were successful so I can plan for this year. I like big contrast in foliage color to grab your attention. Here are a few pictures of things that worked out well.

Here is our chocolate Joe Pye Weed next to a Salvia elegans, or Pineapple Sage. Since Maine summers often aren't quite long or hot enough for this to bloom well, I buy this for the great lime foliage to contrast with the dark leaves of the Joe Pye Weed. 

We can't eat all the lettuces we plant, but that's the point! Lettuces can be beautiful for for color alone. Here is two of my favorites, Yugoslavian Red Butterhead and Cherokee from Johnny's Seeds. The only thing that would have made it better would be to add the lime of Thomas Jefferson's favorite butter head "Tennis Ball" into the mix.

 Here we have two Heucheras with lime and chocolate foliage along side a Hellebore and Bleeding Heart. Later in the season, the dark Heuchera looks stellar next to the white Astilbe.

Again, that chocolate and lime contrast with the Aralia cordata "Sun King" and the Dahlia Mystic Illusion. I can see that this is a pattern with me, the dark foliage next to light.

So when planning out where everything will go this year, thinking about height, flower color and time, don't forget to think about foliage color. This will reward you for the whole season!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Who Doesn't Love a Good Snag?

With all the activity around clean up this time of year, it is good to remember that dead trees have an important place in the garden as well. Snags, the name for dead trees that are left upright to decompose naturally, are so important that according to the National Wildlife Federation they provide habitat for close to one-fifth of the animals in the eco-system 

Here in our yard, snags are home and food for pileated woodpeckers. The largest woodpecker in North America, it is striking with its huge red crest, looking almost prehistoric. Their  loud call is very distinctive and so are the holes they make. Looking for carpenter ants, their favorite food, they make long rectangular holes. Their deep excavations attract other birds looking for food as well. These holes later make habitat for other birds such swifts, owls, bats and pine martens.

During mating season, these birds can be seen doing their ritual courtship dance. This dance consists of one bird bowing, scraping, and stepping sideways in a circle around another bird.
Last year we watched four pileated woodpeckers perform this dance, flitting around the forest making their distinctive calls. Pairs mate for life and prefer old trees in recently cleared forests.

Credit: Joshlaymon

Hollow snags are very valuable in winter as they are used by many species such as squirrels, raccoons and owls to name a few. They provide food storage places for mice, squirrels, blue jays, and woodpeckers. They provide perches for hawks and mourning doves and food for many. Keep this in mind before you think to clean your woods of "unwanted" deadwood. Nothing could be more full of life than these sentinels.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Early Witch-hazels


It is that time again this year when I am driven from my desk to go out and see the incredible witch-hazels in bloom. From far away they look like forsythia, glowing yellow in the sun, but they are much more delicate up close. We found this variety, Hamamelis × intermedia 'Pallida',  to smell strongly of fruit loops!

The most striking thing is they bloomed almost exactly one month later last year.  Here is the post I made last year when I first stared working here at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens from March.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Generalife Gardens at the Alhambra

The Generalife Gardens at the Alhambra in Grenada Spain are one of the only Moorish gardens left today. A UNESCO World Heritage Site destination that is well worth planning a trip, we spent an entire day taking in the country castles of the Alhambra and then walked across the ravine to the summer palace gardens of the Generalife.

Built by the Nasrid Emirates of the early 1300's, this castle complex (that was added to for over 600 years) was originally a court retreat for these kings from northern Africa and Spain that came to enjoy hunting in the Sierra Madres mountains and relaxing at night in the exquisite palace. Many people have written about the Alhambra, much of it romanticized, exaggerated, or blatantly misinformed, adding to its mystique. When you go there you can see why, as it is impossibly romantic and captures the imagination of everyone who goes there. Oh to live on top of a small mountain, with deep ravines all around for protection, with its own spring (a must criteria for medieval castles and gardens) and good hunting grounds only a short distance away!

 Just a short walk from this royal complex, with all its guards and their housing and offical functions, was the garden of the Generalife.

 Built in the earliest days of the Alhambra, the Generalife was humble country estate and garden, a place to get away from the social and civic duties required at the Alhambra. It reminded me a little of Marie Antoinette's pleasure gardens at the Petite Trianon.

The walk to the Generalife highlights the dominating feature of the gardens which are the incredible cypress hedges that are clipped very strictly. This art of a manicured hedge was fascinating to see it up close. As with all very old hedges, there is reconstruction happening all the time.

Above, notice a picture of the staff working on the hedge in the courtyard. Many hedges had training wires that held the growing branches within a framework. In this picture you can see the new growth before it is trimmed. To keep hedges like this trimmed so neatly, you need a large staff.  Take a minute to think about what it would have taken in the 1300's without our modern tools! Many are 25 feet tall!

This striking feature of the Moorish garden speaks of the luxury and staff (slaves and servants) that were part of the everyday life of the Nasrid kings of Alhambra. Like gardens today, the pleasure strolling gardens had many flowers like roses, lavender and ornamental fruit trees such a lemons and limes. I especially love the river rocks used from the Darro and Genil rivers below that were used in making these patterns walks!

Farther down the ravine were the extensive vegetable gardens that supplied the people who lived in this remote country villa. Since it was mid November, the gardens were not at full production. Once there would have been a bridge connecting the Generalife to the Alhambra.

Inside the walls is the Court of the Water Channel which is the main feature inside the estate. The buildings are modest and the water intimate. A pleasure estate with breathtaking views over the valley, this incredible monument to a past time and a glimpse into medieval life should be on your list to visit!